After devastating loss, New Jersey family pushing schools to do more on suicide prevention

     (From left) Carolyn Coburn with her daughters Samantha and Megan, before prom Samantha's sophomore year of high school. Samantha took her own life a year ago. Carolyn and Megan have formed an organization, 'Spread the Love,' to combat teen suicide. (Image courtesy of Megan Coburn)

    (From left) Carolyn Coburn with her daughters Samantha and Megan, before prom Samantha's sophomore year of high school. Samantha took her own life a year ago. Carolyn and Megan have formed an organization, 'Spread the Love,' to combat teen suicide. (Image courtesy of Megan Coburn)

    A year after 19-year-old Samantha Coburn ended her life, her mother, Carolyn, and sister, Megan, are on a mission to prevent other teens from making that choice – and they want schools to take the lead.

    “Quite frankly, I was blindsided. I had no idea that my happy, bubbly child who suffered from anxiety attacks was considering suicide,” Caroyln Coburn said.

    In the months after their loss, the Coburns established a nonprofit organization called Spread the Love in Samantha’s honor. They also drafted a suicide-prevention curriculum entailing classes, speakers and training about suicide, behavior and mental health for kids in kindergarten through 12th grade.

    “Hindsight is 20-20. Now a year later we can see the signs, but we didn’t know what the signs were. We want to teach parents and teachers how to look for those signs so that these children can get help,” said Carolyn Coburn.

    Although mental health resources already exist at many schools, Coburn said it’s going to take a lot more to combat the epidemic of teen suicide.

    “We have to introduce open, honest speakers who have had experience with suicide attempts or losing a loved one to suicide. We have to bring them in to tell these kids the truth – the truth about suicide,” she said.

    But Coburn said school officials may be apprehensive about expanding suicide-prevention efforts out  of fear that just talking about it can backfire.

    “There’s very little suicide prevention taught because schools are scared. We do drug and alcohol education – that doesn’t mean kids say, ‘Wow that’s a great idea, let me go out and shoot dope.’ It teaches them what the effects are and not to do it,” she said.

    Doug Cervi, a teacher who previously worked at Oakcrest High School for 41 years, has become involved in the Coburns’ mission.

    “I think it’s imperative that we do something. If you look at the statistics that are out there, every school in the United States – not just New Jersey schools – where teenagers find a permanent solution to a temporary problem,” said Cervi. “As adults, we should be able to help them get through the difficult time that they might be having, whatever it might be.”

    The Coburns and Cervi have met with principals in the Greater Egg Harbor Regional High School District and hope to meet soon with the superintendent in the Egg Harbor Township School District.

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